When I told a friend the title of this piece she looked at me in horror and said, "You can't say that, everyone will just put it down to sour grapes!" And she does, of course, have a point. No struggling but relatively ambitious writer can possibly be anything other than envious. You'd be scarcely human otherwise. But this particular piece isn't about that.
I didn't much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I've never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can't comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there's so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds. But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right? But The Casual Vacancy changed all that.
It wasn't just that the hype was drearily excessive, or that (by all accounts) the novel was no masterpiece and yet sold by the hundredweight, it was the way it crowded out everything else, however good, however worthwhile. That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere. And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive. Publishing a book is hard enough at the best of times, especially in an industry already far too fixated with Big Names and Sure Things, but what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?
And then there was the whole Cuckoo's Calling saga. I know she used a pseudonym, and no doubt strenuous efforts were indeed made to conceal her identity, but there is no spell strong enough to keep that concealed for long. Her boy hero may be able to resort to an invisibility cloak, but in the real world, they just don't exist. With a secret as sensational as that, it was only a matter of time until the inevitable happened, and then, of course, this apparently well-written and well-received crime novel which seems to have sold no more than 1,500 copies under its own steam, suddenly went stratospheric. And as with The Casual Vacancy, so with this. The book dominated crime lists, and crime reviews in newspapers, and crime sections in bookshops, making it even more difficult than it already was for other books - just as well-written, and just as well-received - to get a look in. Rowling has no need of either the shelf space or the column inches, but other writers desperately do. And now there's going to be a sequel, and you can bet the same thing is going to happen all over again.
So this is my plea to JK Rowling. Remember what it was like when The Cuckoo's Calling had only sold a few boxes and think about those of us who are stuck there, because we can't wave a wand and turn our books into overnight bestsellers merely by saying the magic word. By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure - I would never deny anyone that - but when it comes to the adult market you've had your turn. Enjoy your vast fortune and the good you're doing with it, luxuriate in the love of your legions of fans, and good luck to you on both counts. But it's time to give other writers, and other writing, room to breathe.
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